COVID-19 surge affecting care for other patients, doctors say

sierra vista hospital emergency.JPG
Posted at 4:20 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 23:24:13-04

Doctors at some area hospitals say the number of COVID-19 patients is impacting their ability to care for other patients such as accident victims and those suffering heart attacks or in need of surgery.

"Despite the fact that we're 20 months in, we still are in the midst of a pandemic and it's affecting SLO County more than it has in the past," said Dr. Brad Knox, Chair of the Emergency Department at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

Sierra Vista's ER is seeing the downstream effects of the pandemic.

"It's not just about COVID patients in the hospital," said Dr. Knox. "Your emergency rooms, your hospitals are taking care of strokes, heart attacks, bad orthopedic injuries from motor vehicle accidents, and COVID affects all of that."

Dr. Knox says COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide are affecting the transfer of patients to other hospitals.

For example, those patients that come in with acute injuries but need sub-specialists from Los Angeles or San Francisco.

"If they are full of COVID, they can't accept our patients so those patients are left here with either prolonged waiting times in the ER while we're looking for a bed elsewhere or simply having to stay here," Dr. Knox said.

He says this has been a reality over the past few weeks during this recent COVID-19 surge. The last time they faced this difficulty was this past winter.

"But right now, I think this is affecting us even more than it was then. We're seeing a much larger surge in many ways. We've been saying that the bubble that we've been thankful to be here in SLO has popped," Dr. Knox said.

"The concern in these last few weeks is that our staffing has been quite tight and so what we've reimplemented is simply some additional reviews to make sure that we have the ability to take care of any transfer requests that come," said Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, Cottage Health Chair of Infectious Diseases.

Cottage Health in Santa Barbara says besides delta cases, they're also seeing a large volume of non-COVID-19 cases right now.

"But we also have, I think a really important factor with the effect the pandemic has had on people's mental health and substance use disorders," Dr. Fitzgibbons said.

Lompoc Valley Medical Center, however, says they're not seeing as many patients overall as this past February and March or the other peak in July.

"We have seen actually a pleasant downturn in the number of COVID patients that we have admitted," said Dr. Naishadh Buch, Lompoc Valley Medical Center Chief Operations Officer.

Tele ER is another option at Sierra Vista where a doctor can advise you if you need to go into the ER. It's available 24 hours a day.

Doctors add: do not hesitate to go to the ER if you need to, especially if you are experiencing something serious like a stroke or a heart attack.